Folk music fans can start their Christmas celebrations early with the help of the Albion Christmas Band when the band hits the road for its annual tour on Saturday 9 December.
The band’s annual foray into the musical joys of the winter festival has been described by many as the perfect start to Christmas. This popular show will start in Birmingham then visit fourteen venues around the country before finishing at Bury St Edmunds just a few days before Christmas itself. The show features a mixture of seasonal carols, spoken word, humorous readings and dance, enhanced by great musicianship and a wicked sense of humour. The band adds a modern twist to its arrangements of traditional tunes and showcases some newly written songs. The show reminds audiences of the simpler pleasures and values of a traditional Christmas and offers them a chance to escape the hustle and bustle of festive preparations.
This year the four band members will share their personal favourites from their extensive back catalogue that to each of them best signify the meaning of Christmas, as well as songs from their latest album Magic Touch. “We’ve spent many years spreading our take on Christmas around the country and have made so many friends on our travels” Simon Nicol explains. “Every night on the tour feels like a family celebration so we get to enjoy Christmas for the whole of December not just one or two days”.
The Albion Christmas Band has been kicking off the Christmas season for nearly twenty years, but it was the last incarnation of the Albion Band that originally created special seasonal shows. From an initial idea by melodeon player Simon Care, a previous Albion band member himself, the Albion Band founder Ashley ‘The Guv’nor’ Hutchings brought together two other previous Albion Band members to create an autonomous band to present a guided tour through the Christmas customs of Britain. Joining Care and Hutchings are Simon Nicol (founder member of Fairport Convention) on acoustic guitar and vocals, and Kellie While (Albion Band), acoustic guitar, vocals and percussion.
I’ve just had to slag off a certain ‘folk’(???) band for daring to ruin our traditional songs by taking liberties with the arrangements and smothering the vocals. What a delight then to put on this recording and immediately be seduced by the honeyed tones of Kellie While on an acapella rendition of “Christ Was Born In Bethlehem”. Of course, the addition of Simon Nicol (Guitars/Vocals), Ashley Hutchings (Bass Guitar/Vocals), Simon Care (Melodeon/Percussion) and special guest Will Pound on harmonica helps to drive the rest of the tracks without any need of indulgence with the possible exception of Roland Orzabal’s “Mad World”. This beautifully understated performance with While providing the vocals and Nicol’s subtle guitar picking should see it grace the top of the charts…if we had a real one to speak of…and in my humble opinion is every bit as good as Garry Jules take on the same song in 2003. An Albion Christmas wouldn’t be complete without some ‘readings’ and, coupled with the fact the band have included the jaunty “Obvious Jig” by the sadly missed Nigel Chippendale this is a recording that I will keep returning to long after Christmas is over. Now…somebody please pass me my brandy and mince pie(s).
I don’t have a problem with re-packaging tracks from previously released albums…I really don’t. Let’s take for instance this aptly timed recording courtesy of the Albion Christmas Band. Firstly it states what it is on the cover both in title and content celebrating everyone’s favourite time of year. Secondly any album featuring the combined talents of Kellie While, Simon Care, Ashley Hutchings and Simon Nicol is always worthwhile checking out. As well as the established “First Nowell”, “Hark The Herald Angels Sing” and the stark beauty of “In the Bleak Midwinter” there are lesser-known gems such as “Past Three O’Clock” and “God Bless The Master”. For those that haven’t got any ACB recordings in their collection or were possibly put off at the mere thought of yet another marketing ploy I urge you to think again. With eighteen tracks (and not a duff one amongst them) this is a great way to celebrate a ‘Cool Yule’ and an excuse to break out the mince pies and sherry…as if any were needed!